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World Ark:What inspired you to work for Heifer International?
JAMES KASONGO: When I was country director for Keepers Zambia Foundation, I did a proposal using the Pass on the Gift model. I found a love and interest for the practical nature of the way Heifer was implementing its program and the way it was changing lives in Zambia.
When then Heifer Zambia Country Director Kwacha Chisiza went to Malawi to run that program, I saw the opening and said 'That is a great organization and an opportunity. I know they are changing lives.' As far back as the 1990s I knew about Heifer. And so I started in January of 2008.
WA: What current projects do you see as having the greatest impact and why?
JK: One of the projects I like most is a project in Luanshya in partnership with Land O Lakes, the government of Zambia and Bothar. Heifer's Cornerstones training is used as the model, and Land O Lakes market development built a milk collection center. Milk processor Parmalat contracts with farmer groups, buying milk from the dairy farmer association. Because of that, we have a bank involved to give loans to farmers. They also know they'll get a check every month for the milk. So we have the complete value chain. Because of the partnerships, we can provide more capacity for farmers. The value chain is working for them.
It's a practical way of ending hunger and poverty. It's more sustainable. It's one of the projects I love the most because it includes enterprise development. Because of that we have economic empowerment. Farmers in that area now have access to markets. Some are buying more cattle; some are even buying tractors. We feel it's one of the best models: Let's empower communities to do what will make them the most sustainable.
WA: How do you describe what Heifer does?
JK: Livestock is our entry into a community. It's an asset that people can physically see. It empowers participants, and the animals draw them to join the group. Once they come into the group it's easier to get into other aspects, to strengthen development through training.
When we first work with them they have very little. We use the Cornerstones to organize and empower them and prepare them for the work with the animals. Once they have the animals, such as dairy cows, it becomes a business. From the beginning we start enterprise development training. They see what their friends are doing and it motivates them.
Then we lift them further by teaching skills in development, empower them to be part of a value chain, to be businesspeople.
WA: What are the biggest challenges in Zambia for Heifer's work?
JK: We don't have the capacity to help everyone who's asking for help. Even people in the Democratic Republic of Congo bring their applications to us. We're the only NGO making a difference in a very practical way in Zambia. We come and teach people how to manage animals and to be self-sufficient. Everyone wants to work with us. We're trying to intensify fundraising and attract more partners to scale up our impact and meet demand across the country.
Kasongo supervises a staff of 21. Go to www.heifer.org/worldark to watch his step-by-step video explanation on how Heifer Zambia changes participants' lives.